Cube owner? RPG fan? For the most part, you're out of luck then - aside from the re-release of the excellent Dreamcast RPG, Skies of Arcadia, the GameCube isn't exactly the platform of choice for RPGs. Even Square Enix' pledge of support, in the form of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle, is looking less plot driven and more combat focused every time we see it - not necessarily a bad thing, but hardly the meat that a real console RPG fan craves.
You might be pleased to hear, then, that a Japanese company called MonolithSoft has suddenly noticed the existence of the GameCube, and decided that it might be a nice idea to do a game for it. This is good news, because the last thing MonolithSoft did was the epic, sprawling and incredibly good PlayStation2 RPG, Xenosaga.
MonolithSoft, you see, is a Square spin-off company, whose games are published by one of Square's best mates in the software industry, Namco. Which is why Baten Kaitos, the forthcoming GameCube RPG from the developer, is worth getting excited about, even at this early stage - the talent behind many of Square's best loved games is hard at work on it, most notably scenario writer Masato Kato, the man who worked as story planner on Chrono Trigger and subsequently scenario planner on Chrono Cross, and directors Yasayuki Honne and Hiroya Hatsushiba, whose CVs include the likes of Star Ocean, Chrono Cross and Xenosaga.
So what do we know about Baten Kaitos? Quite a lot, actually. Although it was only announced in the past week or so, the game is due for release this December in Japan, and as you might expect it's a lush looking 3D RPG with anime-style character designs and a suitable fantasy world plot.
The story revolves around two key characters, Kalas and Xelha, who are brought together by entirely different objectives. Main protagonist Kalas is a 17 year old bloke out for revenge on the people responsible for the deaths of his father and younger brother, and he appears to be able to communicate with the spirits of the dead - while Xelha, a vaguely mysterious 17 year old girl, seeks to rescue the world from a crisis by foiling an evil plot of some description.
Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space
The game seems to be set on a number of continents which float in the sky, which can be travelled between on flying boats - sound familiar, Skies of Arcadia fans? - and there's all manner of mystic stuff going on involving something called the "Wing of the Heart", a strange type of wings evolved by the people of the floating continent which manifest themselves at times of tension (like battles, then). Kalas only has one of those wings, and in order to balance this out, he has a mechanical wing on the other side. We're not sure if they mean "balance" in a philosophical sense, or if it's just to prevent him falling over. We assume the former.
So far, so standard RPG fare - a fantasy world, some guff about the conflict between magic and technology, a teenage protagonist who's apparently a bit disturbed and is out for revenge, and a mysterious girl who's off to sort out some people hell-bent on bringing about a disaster. Actually, that all sounds rather good fun - but the really interesting thing is the battle system.
Baten Kaitos dispenses with the traditional turn based battle system as seen in Xenosaga, and instead opts for a card battle system, which calls upon you to use various cards to launch physical and magic attacks. In true card battling form, you'll be able to combine cards to create special attacks, field effects and so on. The card based system seems quite different to most we've seen before, however - you put your cards into play while the current action is still in progress, so battles ought to flow very quickly indeed.
This isn't exactly a fresh direction for MonolithSoft - Xenosaga featured an incredibly comprehensive card battling mini-game which made Tetra Master look like Patience - but it's interesting enough to set the game aside from the pack. Besides, this is an incredibly lush-looking RPG with great graphics, an interesting world and story, undoubtedly wonderful music (Star Ocean 3 composer Motoi Sakuraba is doing the music) and rendered video (Mikitaka Kurasawa, responsible for video on the SIGGRAPH award winning Onimusha and various Resident Evil games, takes the helm here) and a development team with a fantastic pedigree. Rejoice!
Although, we'll rejoice more once we hear a European release confirmed. That said, Nintendo may be slow to release things in Europe, but with a few notable exceptions (Animal Crossing!), they do generally get here in the end. We may well see Baten Kaitos in Europe long before we see Xenosaga....